The Pains of Being Pure at Heart: Days of Abandon

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's third full-length Days of Abandon finds the band in flux, with a new sound that's crisper and cleaner.

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart

Days of Abandon

Label: Yebo
US Release Date: 2014-05-13
UK Release Date: 2014-06-02

After becoming pretty much synonymous with new school noise-pop with their first two albums, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart wouldn't be a band you'd think would be going through identity issues at this point. But the third full-length Days of Abandon finds the Pains in flux, with a new sound that's crisper and cleaner as well as a lineup now reconfigured around mainman Kip Berman and a cast of collaborators supporting him. On the one hand, the Pains' musicianship has not just caught up to the charms of their trademark indie-pop appeal, but has surpassed it, with Berman and company no longer depending on nostalgia or some other intangible, ineffable quality this time around. On the flipside, though, charm and nostalgia were precisely the most endearing and identifiable traits that helped the Pains of Being Pure at Heart stand out as first among equals in its cohort of '90s revivalists, so there are tradeoffs between Berman's greater proficiency as a songwriter and the warm, fuzzy feelings the band radiated with when it made its mark with its self-titled 2009 debut.

Whatever perspective you have of the immaculate pieces Berman's come up with on Days of Abandon, it's hard to argue that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart aren't the leading lights of their particular milieu, channeling '80s and '90s twee underground-pop idioms and giving them new life. The sugary-sweet vocal turns, the wistful guitar melodies, the blissfully melancholy tone -- these elements that Berman has mastered are molded with an increased level of care and craftsmanship that clearly exceeds the shambling naïveté at the roots of the Pains' indie-pop family tree. "Masokissed", for one, is right in what should be the Pains' comfort zone, as Berman runs with melodies and vocal parts that could've been lifted from Heavenly, but makes them feel more expansive, thanks to the resonance of the jangling guitars and the clarity of the production. A yet richer and more complete rendering of the pleasures of the Pains is "Beautiful You", a patiently unfolding six-minute guitar-pop composition that develops and blooms into something epic at its own pace. Slow-fast-slow, quiet-loud-quiet, "Beautiful You" finds the Pains at their most tender and strong at the same time, with teasing flourishes and chiming guitars billowing into the grand alterna gestures that Berman couldn't quite pull off on 2011's Belong.

If anything, Days of Abandon might just be where the Pains of Being Pure at Heart coulda, shoulda headed all along after their first album, considering how the group's approach never felt big enough for Belong's stabs at throwback anthems. In contrast, "Simple and Sure" lives up to its title, as Berman's breezy strum builds nicely into a layered melody, with a bit of keyboard and background singing adding texture to reinforce the thinly cooed chorus of "It might be simple but I'm sure / I just want to be yours." More impressively, the deceptively lush "Life After Life" and the gently bopping "Kelly" (both of which feature A Sunny Day in Glasgow's Jen Goma on lead vocals) combine chamber-pop elements with Berman's sweet tooth for guitar-centric alt-rock to find just the right scale for his aesthetic sensibility. Especially on "Life After Life", which displays added intricacy and imagination as it weaves together horn arrangements and angular melodies, the Pains discover a happy medium befitting an artistic vision that's more ambitious than that of their K Records international pop underground predecessors, but also less bombastic than the Alternative Nation rock-outs Berman tried to match up to on Belong.

And yet, even though this latest effort is more accomplished and skillfully executed than their previous outings, you can't help but feel that Days of Abandon doesn't quite sink in and have the staying power that the Pains' best work had and still has, that there's not quite the same kind of heart and soul in its heartbreak. In some cases, it's because the songs can almost seem like they're refined to the point that they become clinical and sterile, swapping visceral appeal for sophistication and losing in the bargain. That's an inkling you get right at the beginning with the slight opening number "Art Smock", which comes off too delicate and frail in the shy vocals and quiet acoustic strum as Berman attempts to grasp at some Platonic ideal of fragile indie-pop takes him too far away from his generally right-on instincts. The same goes for the overly deliberate "Coral and Gold", which dithers around with atmosphere too much and misses its window of opportunity by opening up into a blossoming melody a little too late to grab and hold your attention.

But what makes Days of Abandon less warm and immediate than the Pains' previous peaks is that even as Berman has broadened his palette and expanded his range of possibilities, his musical vocabulary seems more borrowed and derivative than before. In other words, the irony is that while Berman has become a better, more canny songwriter, he's become a less original one too. Even the album's more compelling pieces have their been-there-heard-that passages, particularly the way you can't quite shake how "Beautiful You" sounds like the Pains' homage to Smashing Pumpkins paying tribute to the Cure, with a touch of My Bloody Valentine noise candy sneaking in, as if to remind you of the influences Berman already wore on his sleeve. Without a musical language that's more his own, Berman tends to fall back on recycled tones and accents when he's at his most ambitious on Days of Abandon, like when you catch yourself humming "Just Like Heaven" to yourself on the grunge-poppy "Until the Sun Explodes" or when you hear how "Eurydice" intros to a Loveless-like sheet of shoegaze, then goes out to vocal lines that somehow approximate the Arcade Fire doing a version of the National's "Graceless".

Ultimately, Days of Abandon is an album that feels like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart are trying to settle into a new sense of what it is as a band, whether that's because Kip Berman is still continuing to find his voice as a songwriter or because his music sometimes sounds more like its influences than what it once was not so long ago. That's the surprising outcome to Days of Abandon, considering that the Pains of Being Pure at Heart had more of a defined identity before the new album than after it.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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